Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Play me a tune in Mason City October 9, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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MY ENTIRE LIFE, I wished I could play the piano.

But opportunity never presented itself. Or more like limited finances never allowed for purchase of a piano or piano lessons. When you grow up in a large family without much money, piano lessons miss the budget. And when there are farm chores, time does not allow for piano lessons.

To this day, I cannot play a single musical instrument or read a note.

A sign invites pianists to sit down and play.

A sign invites pianists to sit down and play the public piano.

But I appreciate music and what a group of Mason City High School students, through Youth Investing Energy in Leadership Development (YIELD), have brought to their northeastern Iowa community via “Tunes for the Town.”

A "Tunes for the Town" piano located in Mason City's downtown Plaza.

A “Tunes for the Town” piano located in Mason City’s downtown Plaza.

Through this project, students painted four donated pianos which were then placed around Mason City in May. On a recent visit there, I discovered one of those public pianos outside Southbridge Mall in the downtown Plaza. The other three are located in Central Park, near KCMR radio’s studio and inside The Music Man Square.

This public piano project is especially fitting for Mason City, birthplace of “The Music Man” composer, Meredith Willson.

Beth Ann and Randy uncover the Plaza piano, revealing a color piano which mimics my friend's colorful shirt.

Beth Ann and Randy uncover the Plaza piano, revealing a colorful piano mimicking my friend’s colorful shirt.

On this quiet Sunday afternoon, my husband, Randy, and friend, Beth Ann, who lives in Mason City and served as our tour guide, uncovered the piano.

Randy has enough musical knowledge to play a short tune.

Randy has enough musical knowledge to play a short tune.

Then Randy pounded out some simple beginner’s tune and determined the piano needs tuning. His dad played piano and organ and even an accordion, before he lost his hand in a farming accident. But even after the accident, my father-in-law still tuned pianos.

The colorful back of the piano.

The colorful back of the piano.

No concert was performed that Sunday afternoon in the Plaza. But my unheard applause rings for those high school students and “Tunes for the Town.”

Just cover the piano once you've finished playing.

Just cover the piano once you’ve finished playing.

FYI: The pianos are locked at night and, as you can see, are covered to protect them from the weather. They will be moved indoors this winter.

A 22-year-old Des Moines man pled guilty recently to felony criminal mischief after he flipped and destroyed one of the pianos earlier this year. That piano has since been replaced.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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14 Responses to “Play me a tune in Mason City”

  1. Dan Traun Says:

    What a great project. It is too bad some feel the need to destroy such a neat idea.

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    🙂 I was there!!!

  3. Thread crazy Says:

    When I was a child, my brother and I took lessons and played duets. Now I couldn’t play a thing! Chop sticks maybe!!

  4. treadlemusic Says:

    Wow! What a great idea!!! Piano lessons began in kindergarten for me and I continued them through high school. A variety of styles have interested me but Classical remains the foundation. The “Contemporary Classical” style of such artists as Lori Line fit my style/technique perfectly and is what I share at Christmas time at the hospital in Winona. Life w/o music……….difficult to imagine. It’s “color” for the ears (as prismatic light is such for the eyes). Another wonderful post…………………..Great to see Beth Ann and parts of Randy!!!!! LOL!

  5. How fun is that? Great idea. I’m sure the pianos go out of tune very quickly being outside, but that shouldn’t matter much. Wonder if anyone plays them very often?

  6. DeLores Says:

    I have always wanted to play the piano too, but I was never fortunate enough to get to take lessons. However, my sister who is 9 years younger than me got to take piano and organ lessons. She has been organist of her church for several years. I have always been resentful of the fact that my parents did not let me have lessons too. My entire family is musical. My mother played piano and several other instruments by ear and my dad played banjo. My brother plays the electric guitar and drums and to top it off my husband plays accordion. They would get together and play and I would have to sit and listen. I think when a child want to play an instrument the parents should do everything they can to see to it that they can take lessons and not just for some of the kids or am I wrong in feeling left out?

    • No, you’re not wrong for feeling left out given all of the other musicians in your family.

      My younger siblings were in band. But I never had the opportunity. Same goes for travel. Being the eldest daughter, I had to stay home with my older brother and tend the farm while our parents and younger siblings went on vacation.

  7. hotlyspiced Says:

    That’s so sad about Randy’s father but all too often you hear of terrible accidents with farming equipment. I was given piano lessons but they were wasted on me as I have zero talent. I do wish I was musical and when I get to heaven I’m going to ask the good Lord why I missed out on dancing, acting and musical skills xx


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